The Timber Evolution: Mass Timber is a Global Movement

Much has been written about the growth in mass timber construction, but it’s important to note that this growth is not just happening in Europe and North America. It is truly a global movement, with mass timber structures being built all over the world.

While some have called the increased use of timber a ‘building revolution,’ we prefer to consider it an ‘evolution’ because using plant life to build structures is such a natural step in the progression of our industry.

But evolution takes time. CLT was invented in Europe more than 20 years ago and is only now starting to gain real traction elsewhere.

In order for a new technology to become readily adopted on a global scale, there are several requirements that must be met:  there must be a need, it must be cost competitive and it must have proof of concept.

As we look at the reasons designers are increasingly using mass timber construction around the world, several stand out: people are recognizing the need to reduce carbon emissions and they have a strong commitment to building more sustainably using wood. Solid timber buildings can be quickly and easily erected and they are cost competitive, often at a 4 percent savings1 over steel and concrete. Plus, the cost of CLT panels will continue to drop as more manufacturing plants open around the world.

That leaves us with proof of concept. A number of designers and manufacturers are paving the way for the rest of the world to take advantage of mass timber construction technology. It’s an idea whose time has come. Let’s take a look at six projects outside of Europe and North America which help demonstrate that there is a serious global movement taking place in the mass timber space.

Click on the photos below for a link to more project information


Photo courtesy of Lee Kuo-Min Studio

Material: Cross Laminated Timber (CLT)
Location: Taichung, Taiwan
Architect: Origin Architects & Planners
Key Features:

  • Taiwan’s first CLT building; purposefully designed to break the ‘boxlike’ stereotype of CLT construction
  • Intent was to introduce an environmentally-friendly, low-carbon alternative to this country’s building and construction industry
  • Challenges included proving durability of CLT building in this hot and humid climate; they raised the first floor above ground to protect from moisture and to prevent termite attack; they also used an innovative rainscreen system to prevent wind-driven water from entering the building assembly


Photo courtesy of Aurecon Group

Material: Laminated Veneer Lumber (LVL)
Location: Nelson, New Zealand
Architect: Irving Smith Architects
Key Features:

  • Used Pine LVL for all structural components, including shear panels and post and beam members
  • Incorporated advanced damage avoidance earthquake design with walls designed to rock on their foundations to absorb seismic energy and preserve the structure
  • All structural components were grown, milled and manufactured within an 80 km/50 mile ‘Radius of Source’


Photo Courtesy of Felipe Díaz Contardo

Material: Glulam
Location: Constitución, Chile
Architect: Sebastian Irarrázaval Arquitectos
Key Features:

  • Constructed as part of a public-private initiative to rebuild the city after an earthquake and tsunami devastated the area in 2010
  • Reticulated wood naves filter and balance the interior light
  • Façade features three monumental glass cases designed to invite people to see new book arrivals


hoto courtesy of Diana Snape

Material: Cross Laminated Timber (CLT)
Location: Melbourne, Australia
Architect: Hayball (architect of record) with Clare Design (design architect)
Key Features:

  • Use of lightweight CLT enabled the building to be located right on the waterfront, just 8 meters/26 feet from the edge, therefore minimizing any required remediation to the existing 75-year-old wharf structure
  • Building’s innovative passive design promotes natural ventilation, daylight and fresh indoor air quality
  • Structure was erected in 60 days with a crew of just six carpenters


Winner: International Wood Design: Tsingtao Pearl Visitor Centre, Qingdao, China - Gerald Epp, StructureCraft Builders (CNW Group/Canadian Wood Council for Wood WORKS! BC)

Photo courtesy of Nic Lehoux

Material: Nail Laminated Laminated Timber (NLT) and Glulam
Location: Qingdao, China
Architect: Bohlin Cywinski, Jackson Architects
Key Features:

  • Free-form solid NLT wood roof was site-fabricated in 1.8-meter/6-foot-wide panels
  • Roof is supported by 93 glulam columns and a two-way cable truss system
  • Glulam columns lean in different directions to achieve a net balance of forces in the roof in both lateral and torsion directions


Photo courtesy of Tzannes and Associates

Location: Sydney, Australia
Architect: Tzannes and Associates
Key Features:

  • 7-story commercial building; expected completion 2017
  • Features CLT and recycled hardwood timber, and includes a colonnade form that is representative of a forest of trees
  • Part of Australia’s first large-scale carbon-neutral community, this building is dedicated to “renewing architecture’s role to serve the greater social purpose of lowering carbon emissions”


Public Library of Constitución, Photo Courtesy of Felipe Díaz Contardo


1. Solid Timber Construction Process, Practice, Performance; University of Utah College of Architecture and Planning; August 2015